The media ‘obsession’ with abortion and gay marriage

There was an unhealthy focus on the Pope’s interview, writes David Quinn

The Pope’s interview that has appeared in Jesuit publications all over the world and has received huge coverage in the mainstream press as well has proven that it is not the Church that is ‘obsessed’ with issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception, but the media themselves.

The interview ran to over 12,000 words but if you asked the average person to tell you what was in it, probably all they could tell you is that Pope Francis said something to the effect that the Church shouldn’t be ‘obsessed’ with abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives.

‘Pope seeks new balance on abortion, women and gays’ said the headline in The Irish Times. The New York Times had it, ‘Pope bluntly faults Church’s focus on gays and abortion’. There were lots of similar headlines all around the world.

In a way these headlines showed why the Pope has been wise not to focus too much on these issues so early in his pontificate. Such is the obsession of the media with them that if he had spoken about them loudly and unmistakably since his election in March, it would have overwhelmed everything else he has had to say.

Following the publication of the interview with the Pope, a number of people dug up a very interesting comment Pope Benedict made to the Swiss bishops in 2006.

He said: “I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ‘90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.


“If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the Faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.”

During his time as Pope, Benedict XVI wrote two books about Jesus and three encyclicals dealing with faith (completed by Francis), hope and charity. His focus was on Jesus. He only spoke from time to time about abortion and gay marriage but this is almost invariably what got highlighted.

The one and only time we got to see Benedict for ourselves in a major way was when we could watch, live on TV, his visit to Britain in 2010. We saw a humble, gentle man who won over the crowds and even won some favourable headlines despite all the intensely negative publicity he attracted in the run-up to his visit.

But for the most part we saw Benedict through the extremely hostile lens of the media. They did not like him and we were invited not to like him as well.

On Monday, Pope Francis tweeted: “The Church has no other meaning and finality than to witness to Jesus. May we not forget this.”  There isn’t a word of that Pope Emeritus Benedict would disagree with.


But to return to the interview, what Pope Francis said about abortion and so on has overwhelmed everything else he had to say in it. He cannot be comfortable with the fact that pro-abortion newspapers like The Irish Times and The New York Times are cheerleading him, as is ‘Catholics for Choice’, which also supports very liberal abortion laws.

It would be one thing if this led people to reconsider Jesus and the Church, and that remains to be seen, but in the case of newspapers that back abortion and back same-sex marriage they will be happy to use the Pope’s remarks to further their own causes.

Let’s consider in a bit more detail who is really obsessed with these issues, the Church or its critics? For example, how often do Mass-goers hear their priests preach about abortion, gay marriage or contraception, or even divorce for that matter? The answer is, almost never.

Mass-goers will have heard a little more than usual about abortion lately, but that’s only because the issue was being debated nationally.

Similarly, the vast majority of addresses and statements from bishops do not relate to these issues.

Nor did the vast majority of addresses and statements from previous Popes, not to mention Francis.

But we have newspapers and politicians who actively campaign for more liberal abortion laws and for same-sex marriage. Eamon Gilmore has called gay marriage “the civil rights issue of our time” and Micheál Martin is constantly pushing for it.

In addition, The Irish Times has run headline after headline about abortion including a recent one that turned out to be completely wrong.

RTÉ rarely misses an opportunity to run a soft-focus interview with a same-sex couple as a way of softening up the public for same-sex marriage, and various TV dramas have worked likeable gay characters into their plotlines (as distinct from likeable Catholics or evangelicals, say).


Given how infrequently the Church does address these issues, what do its critics want? Complete silence? If only its critics would reciprocate, but they won’t, because these issues are very important to them.

The fact that our ruling elite are so obsessed with these matters puts the Church in a bind. Pope Francis clearly sees that even though his predecessors addressed these issues far less often than is commonly supposed, he is trying very hard to ensure he doesn’t become too associated with them.

Pope Francis knows he can talk freely and passionately about other issues that are very important to him, like workers’ rights, without there being any backlash or any danger it will overwhelm his more directly religious messages.

But he knows full well the backlash that awaits him if he speaks out strongly against items that our ruling elite strongly support.

And yet the right to life and the true nature of marriage and the family are very important issues directly affecting the lives of very many people, especially children.

Pope Francis will have to find a way to square this circle, to find a way of speaking about these things in way the public hears clearly and unmistakably without the other things he stands for being overwhelmed.

This will be no easy thing but if anyone can do it, this Pope can.